Taliban takeover through two Afghans lenses
Questions are swirling in the air after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last week ending the rule of West-backed government of Ashraf Ghani. It took the Taliban just over a week to seize control of the whole country and to obliterate government forces, trained for years and equipped by the United States and others at a cost of billions of dollars. The Taliban have offered a pledge of reconciliation, vowing no revenge against opponents and to respect women's rights, press freedom. They have also pledged an 'inclusive government' based on Sharia. But there are huge concerns globally and within Afghanistan about the Taliban's brutal human rights record and tens of thousands of Afghans are still trying to flee. Pockets of resistance have emerged against the new ruler of Afghanistan, where one's ethnic identity often eclipses national one. Can the Taliban be trusted this time? What form of government is on the cards? Will it be inclusive? What will be the future of their new regime? Can they deliver for Afghans? Will there be another civil war? -- questions like these are making the headlines in Western-backed news media around the world. But little is coming out from the Afghans themselves. The Daily Star's correspondent Mostafa Shabuj has asked these questions and more to two Afghan youths from two major ethnic groups of Afghanistan. Here is their conversation:
The Daily Star: How is the situation there? Why people are fleeing?
Ali from Kabul: The situation is calmer after the Taliban's take over. The people who are leaving the country are mostly (80 percent) Pashtuns. They were the translators, interpreters, and employees of US/western entities. These people are leaving the country, not fearing the Taliban but to grab the opportunity of a better life abroad.
Irfanullah Irfan from Kunar province: At the beginning, people were scared because they thought that the Taliban would torture or kill them. But the sense of panic ebbed as Taliban announced general amnesty. Now people are feeling relatively safe.
TDS: Why did the Ghani regime fail? Why didn't the Afghan army fight?
Ali: Although I don't support the Taliban, I am happy that it (the Ghani regime) collapsed. It was an epitome of corruption, injustice, and nepotism and it heavily priorotised Pashtuns. So was the Karzai regime. Therefore, they collapsed. I would blame more on the Afghan technocrats than the western powers. Corruption and shameless patronizing of Pashtun ethnic groups resulted in empowering the Taliban. Both Karzai and Ghani had sympathy for the Taliban because both are Pashtuns. They wanted the Taliban to be a force, a pressure group, against non-Pashtuns especially the Tajiks (the second dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan).
Irfan: Yes, due to biases to certain ethnicity, the previous government has collapsed.
TDS: Do you trust this Taliban?
Irfanullah Irfan: The Taliban have pledged to rebuild the country, save it from corruption and nepotism. We are welcoming them this time. Besides, they said they won't repeat the past mistakes and has promised an inclusive government taking in all major ethnic groups on board. That is giving me hope.
Ali: As I said before, corruption, injustices, and unfair representation of Pashtuns in power structures pushed the Afghanistan people from the previous government. Even during their past stint, the Taliban courts were transparent and delivered justice faster than the Ghani regime. Nevertheless, only Pashtuns are keeping their faith in the Taliban, not the others.
TDS: Can Taliban deliver?
Irfan: Taliban should form a unity government along with other ethnic groups and they have already promised to do so. We hope they stick to their promises, including their commitment to build good relationship with other countries.
Ali: Taliban would not be able to govern properly. It won't be easy for them. Taliban only have the Sharia ideology. Most of them are from rural areas and most of them are Durrani Pashtuns, they don't know the urban life, they don't know the bureaucracy to run the government.
TDS: what will happen to progressive groups if the Taliban impose Sharia laws?
Irfan: See, we are Muslims and we have no issue with the Sharia laws. Yes, they will apply the Sharia rules. No doubt about this but, as I said, they already allowed women in works and they have no problems with the media and social media. Taliban said they are not against any groups that follow the Sharia rules. But the concern remains how moderately they will apply the Sharia.
Ali: The whole world is now watching the Taliban's activities. I think they haven't changed. They will impose all the restrictions gradually as they did before which will make troubles for all of us who grew up in the last two decades in a republic era, not under the strict Sharia law. If they don't impose that than they are no longer the Taliban. They will lose their core support base.
TDS: Are you worried about the remaining cultural heritage sites?
Irfan: Yes, they damaged some sculptures in Bamiyan last time. It seems they have learnt a lot over the past two decades.
Ali: As I said, they will show their characters soon.
TDS: Who will be the major players in Afghanistan now?
Ali: Pakistan, Iran, China, and Russia will be the big players. India is out.
Erfan: The Taliban government should maintain good relationships with all the nations.
TDS: What will happen to your Afghan cricket team?
Irfan: We are worried about our cricket teams as the T20 world cup is knocking at the door.
Ali: I don't know what is waiting for the cricket team but I like Pakistan cricket team.
TDS: Last question. Are there any chances of a civil war?
Ali: We might have another civil war in a year or two but it will depend on how the Taliban behave. Much depends on the government formation. Will it be inclusive and power-sharing, or not? If not, then pockets of resistance will start especially in the Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek areas.
We have a rich ethnic diversity. The Afghan constitution recognizes 16 ethnic groups but there are more than 40 ethnic groups according to researchers. Pashtuns are around 39%, Tajiks around 30%, Hazara 23%, Uzbek, Turkmen 18%, etc. Right now every group wants a share of the governmental power. The ruling Pashtuns never wanted to conduct a census because they feared that if a census is done then their real numbers might come out and they will no longer be able to claim that they are the majority.
Irfan: I hope this Taliban can pull out a unity government as promised. But a lot depend on how the Taliban will treat the new generation.